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Barça Legends:  Andoni Zubizarreta

Barça Legends: Andoni Zubizarreta

Wembley, 1992

By Isaac Moreno

Given current events, we should focus a new Barcelona Legend on the figure of Andoni Zubizarreta, FC Barcelona General Manager until few days ago. Many of us know him only for holding this position, but he is indeed a Legend of Barcelona. He was a goalkeeper and for almost 10 years, until Victor Valdés appeared, he was strongly missed by the supporters. To get an idea, in the ten years between these two legends we had in goal Busquets (a proto-Neuer and father of Sergio Busquets), Vitor Baia (Portuguese, supposedly then the best in the world and a fiasco in our team), Hesp (a very decent Dutch keeper), Reina (former Liverpool player), Dutruel (a French keeper barely remembered), Bonano (nice Argentinean dude) and Rustu Reçber (a Turkish goalie currently in Beşiktaş).

Zubizarreta, or Zubi as he was called, made his debut in the First Division of Spain with Athletic de Bilbao in 1981, when he was only 20 years old, and he would win 2 Ligas with the Basque team in 82/83 and 83/84. Already considered the best goalkeeper in Spain he signed for Barcelona in 1986 where he received the warm Catalan hostility because he came to move from the goal another legend and beloved player: Urruti. It took him a year of whistles and boos in Camp Nou but finally supporters understood the goal was well covered with him and so it was for 8 years in which he was part of the “Dream Team”. In Barcelona, he won 4 Ligas, 2 Copas del Rey, 1 UEFA Cup and 1 European Cup (the first one ever in 1992).

His style was defined as sobri, which in Catalan is used for objects that lack superfluous ornaments, like an old wooden table, and it is certainly hard to remember Zubi flying in for a diving save. He was mostly praised for his positioning, the ball seemed often to go where he was, and for the control of the long ball, something not that common in goalkeepers today.  This same sobriety in his character made him an important element among his teammates, being part of the vaques sagrades (the sacred cows), a group formed by the most prominent players. He was also named captain of FC Barcelona.

He came to Barcelona when we had a British coach, Terry Venables, and left when Johann Cruyff blamed him for what is called in Catalunya as La desfeta d’Atenas (The destruction in Athens) when Barcelona lost the Champions League Final (then European Cup) 4-0 against AC Milan. The story is well-known: in the flight back from Athens, Zubizarreta was told he was out of the team for good. He complained he could not even say goodbye to the supporters in a proper way. Such is life, they told him and without a proper good-bye he left to Valencia where he played for 4 years before retiring. This tactless farewell was not due to Zubi’s performance in the final game (awful like the rest of the players), but with Johann Cruyff’s revolutionary ideas. The Dream Team played a very offensive game that often left the defense unprotected (Koeman, who played as the last man, was often sent off with a red car for trying to stop counter-attacks), and that forced the keeper to step ahead and play with his feet, which was the worst skill Zubizarreta had. So Cruyff’s vision was a goalkeeper who could play like a defender. In those times there were none to be found, so he substituted Zubizarreta with his own creation, Carles Busquets, a goalkeeper bred in La Masia, who was good with his feet and terrible with his hands.

Athens, 1994


After hanging up his cleats he worked with Jorge Valdano to create a sports consulting group called Make a Team, which is part of Ernst&Young and started his career as General Manager in Athletic de Bilbao in 2001 where he lasted 3 years. In 2010 he was part of the candidacy that won the elections for Barcelona presidency and became his friend Pep Guardiola’s boss (some people say now ex-friend). A year later he appointed Tito Vilanova as Pep’s substitute. A year after that, president Rosell appointed Tata Martino. A year after that it seems Zubizarreta appointed Luís Enrique. Half a year later substitute president Bartomeu fired Zubizarreta. And that’s where we are now.

Barça Legends:  Johan Cruyff

Barça Legends: Johan Cruyff

By Isaac Moreno

Cruyff laid the foundations for what you see now. He was responsible for the major turnaround of the club. - Ronald Koeman


Since this month we play against Levante we will introduce a well known figure of both clubs and 3 time winner of the Ballon d’Or (1971, 1973, 1974): Johan Cruyff. Famous 3 times over: as a player, as a coach and as a soccer guru. He is the father of Barcelona’s modern soccer success and nothing explains his influence in our club better than the cover of France Football Magazine with three Barcelona shirts: the Father being Cruyff, the Son being Guardiola and the Holy Spirit being Messi.

Cruyff, Guardiola and Messi's jerseys

Cruyff, Guardiola and Messi’s jerseys


Johan Cruyff  joined Ajax of Amsterdam youth teams when he was 10 years old and he was there in the beginning of the 70s when a Dutch coach, Rinus Mitchels, conceived of total football: offensive playing, preassure everywhere in the field, changes of position, and fast passing. After winning 3 consecutive European Cups (the old Champions League) he left Amsterdam and landed in Barcelona the year 1973 to play for a team that had won its last league in 1960. Back then culés thought of themselves as part of an oppressed institution that didn’t win due to external interests, the number one of those being the fascist regime that ruled Spain and controlled all the referees, so when Barcelona won the league that season Cruyff was pleased to find himself turned into a hero: “I was used to being congratulated, but here people said thank you“. That season also left a game for history: 0-5 in Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.  After that game -according to writer Jimmy Burns- a New York Times journalist wrote that Cruyff had done more for the spirit of the Catalan people in 90 minutes than many politicians had done with years of struggle. Cruyff also blended with Catalan society and chose a Catalan name, Jordi, for his son. He probably blended too much and started talking more than doing (“You are only a better player than the rest when you take care of your body”, said the man who smoked at the half time in the changing room) and complaining more than playing (“The Barcelona coach always did the opposite of what I told him to do”),  so he did not win anything else besides a Copa del Rey and left in 1978. He then moved to US where he played for the Washington Diplomats in DC. Then he played 10 games for Levante and finished his careeer in Netherlands.

Rumor says this blue thing still roams the RFK Stadium


Cruyff became a coach with the mission of improving total football and he brought his tactical revolution to Barcelona in 1988. He also had a request that would be key in the future of Barcelona’s soccer success: the tactical revolution and the training methods had to be applied to the young teams as well. What was that revolution? Every Barcelona fan has a different aphorism of the master that summarizes it: “If you have the ball, the other team doesn’t have it”; “The most important thing is the rhythm of the ball”; “I rather win 5-4 than 1-0″; “The ball is an essential part of the game”; “Playing football is very simple, but playing simple football is the hardest thing there is.”; “To win a game you have to score one more goal than your opponent”. Like the best oracles some of them seem very obvious but we must understand that before him most of the training was physical exercise and the ball was used often as a balloon that had to be played with the head. He also transformed a position known as the 4 in something like a quarterback whose main job was to distribute the ball and has been executed at its best by Pep Guardiola and Xavi. Cruyff changed not only the way FC Barcelona played, also the way Catalan people played. If you’re in an amateur game and you see a player scanning around like a giraffe instead of running, he/she must be Catalan.

Cruyff with his customary lollipop after he suffered a heart-attack

With Cruyff, Barcelona won our first European Cup in 1992 and became known worldwide as The Dream Team. His last words to the players in the changing room of The Wembley Stadium before the final against Sampdoria was “go out there and enjoy”. But all stories have an end and he parted on bad terms with the president when, it is said, he asked him to spend money on two then unknown young french players: Zidane and Thierry Henry (“money must be on the pitch, not in the bank”, he told him). At least a different president years later accepted his advice of hiring Frank Rijkaard and Pep Guardiola as coaches.

These days he plays golf and sometimes he appears on Dutch TV analyzing games where he says things like “British football has improve since they have foreign players” or ” Italy can’t win; you can lose against Italy” or “in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, but he’s still a one-eyed man.” Who knows why he said that, but as he confessed once: “When I get home after doing analysis for TV, my wife asks: What did you say? I respond: No clue whatsoever.”



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